It seemed like the perfect way to end my birthday. So Sunday evening, I went with my friend, Bess, and her son, Benjamin, to a Giuseppe Verdi concert at Second Presbyterian Church just a few minutes from my house.
The church’s sanctuary choir and festival orchestra were joining with the Bach Chorale Singers of Lafayette for a free concert. I had attended other such events in the same venue with Bess and her family and was sure we were in for a treat.
We arrived just a few minutes before the concert, and by the time we wove our way through the massive parking lot, the giant educational wing of the church, and then to the back of the sanctuary, we were lucky to squeeze into the next to the last pew, which they had just opened for latecomers.
In the minute or two before the choir entered and the orchestra performed their final tuning and after I had again taken in the splendor of the French Gothic Cathedral, I glanced down at the program: Messa da Requiem, a mass for the dead. I chuckled. Only I could celebrate my birthday at a Requiem written “in memory of all the faithful departed.”
The double choir and four soloists all sang in Latin, but thankfully the words were translated into English for the audience. There also was a musical interpretation in the notes to help those of us who are less musically inclined make the connections that would be obvious to most.
I discovered there that in the opening section, the chorus “enters in a whisper, uttering a single word – Requiem” to help us enter into the tomb of death where the departed are. In a later section titled “Lacrymosa” (from the Latin “lacrima” meaning “tears”), a “variety of countermelodies” by the chorus and the orchestra evoke sobbing. And in the movement called “Sanctus,” the split choir sings in “brilliant imitative texture,” bringing to mind “angels twirling and dancing in exuberant joy.”
But no commentary was necessary during the section “Dies Irae,” or “Day of Wrath.” The blaring trumpets, thundering drums, and screaming choir were obviously depicting the terror of judgment. No one could hear that movement and be left unshaken.
The “Dies Irae” was revisited in the closing movement, but the piece ended with a pleading prayer, “Deliver me, O Lord, from eternal death in that awful day, when the heavens and earth shall be moved, when Thou shalt come to judge the world by fire.”
And by that moment, having visited the depths of hell and the heights of heaven and lived to tell about it, I realized that perhaps I should spend every birthday listening to the Requiem for the dead.